This is what happens in countries that do not believe in a freedom of speech and, in particular, a free press: they end up with only the freedom to die.
China & the Coronavirus
The government of China quite possibly really believes that their level of control over the people is necessary for the improvement of everyone’s lives. I’m not sure that’s true, but for purposes of this argument, we could give them the benefit of the doubt. At the very least, we really don’t know.
Regardless, we see their government as oppressive. We see their government as looking out for the interests of government officials. We see the absence of necessary freedoms.
As noted above, this is not necessarily how China’s government sees itself. Quite possibly, China’s government sees itself as one of the most progressive society’s on Earth. They—and they alone—understand the need to control what other people say, so as to create safe spaces, to avoid damage to the population at large, and to advance their perfect society.
So, silencing doctors who try to warn the public of public health disasters at their inception makes perfect sense. We can’t have people panicking. What if the doctor is wrong? We need experts to assess the situation, and decide what information to release. These experts necessarily include experts on what the people can tolerate. These experts necessarily include government officials, because only those government officials really know the right way to govern.
After all, you don’t have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, right? Neither does a doctor have the right to yell “Virus!” in a crowded society. Think of the chaos!
So Chinese authorities initially tried to silence doctors, and keep them from warning others about the coronavirus. One of those doctors has now been permanently silenced: by the coronavirus.
And America Progresses Down the Same Path
America is headed down this same path. In the name of creating safe spaces in our universities (and this movement is spreading throughout our society), some silence speech with which they disagree. These “progressives” believe that they’re doing so to advance our society, to improve the lot of all people, and to make the entire world a better place. Like China.
Another group of people thinks a certain orange-tinged idiot is the best thing to hit America since—well, anything. He’s draining the swamp. But first, he has to fill it with alligators and shit to kill all the liberals, distract his base, and enrich himself, his family, and his friends. The political space becomes polluted with lies, and anyone speaking the truth about the President must be silenced.
I—and many others—see the first group as oppressive, not progressive. I—and many others—see it as trying to create an absence of necessary freedoms, not the presence of safe space. How safe is the space if it makes you constantly fearful of retribution for saying something that isn’t in vogue?
The second group is your ordinary run-of-the-mill fascism, but with the socialist aspect limited to enhancing the lives only of those already rich.
Those who think this way—that is, the way I think—recognize that we desire neither of the groups above to have too much control over our own lives. But we also realize that we should not have too much control over the lives of others. In holding our position, we recognize the necessity of free speech.
Why are freedoms, especially freedoms to speak, necessary? Because no one person, and no one group—ethnic, religious, or political—has all the answers. No one person, and no one group—ethnic, religious, or political—is always right. People who don’t agree with other people should have the freedom to say so without fearing that the government is going to lock them up, the government-supported schools are going to kick them out, or someone is going to get them fired by the government for not toeing the party line.
Quite frankly, the best way to improve society is to allow for as much speech as possible. Counter “bad” speech with “good” speech. And by that, I don’t mean “drown out the bad speech by surrounding the bad speakers and chanting until they give up.” If you own the forum, fine; if you don’t, then STFU until it’s your turn to speak. Silencing ideas you disagree with means potentially silencing an idea which—while originally appearing to be counter-intuitive—could improve society.
Freedom Is Necessary Because Your Preferred Group Will Not Rule Forever
I despise much of the so-called political “Right.” Not all of it, because I recognize that some people just think differently than I do about some basic things, and that’s okay. The farther right you go, the more I despise them. But I’m not so fond of the so-called political “Left,” either. As with the Right, the farther you go to the Left, the more despicable they are.
Fascism is fascism. I don’t care if it’s right-leaning fascism, or left-leaning fascism. I like freedom. Yes, I understand that in a multi-cultural, non-homogeneous, inclusive society, there have to be some limits. These limits should be as minimal as possible to allow for as much freedom of expression—speech—as possible.
Do you have the right to argue against someone with whom you disagree? Absolutely. Even if it “triggers” them? Absolutely. Can you say hateful things if you want? Absolutely. Everyone has the right to be an asshole, if that’s how they want to be known.
What about the right to punch someone in the nose if you disagree with them? Nope. What about spitting on them? Nope. What about doing anything and everything possible to prevent them speaking in a public, or even a private, venue? Not even close. If the venue is yours, and yours alone—like your house, or your yard—go for it. If it’s not, what really gives you the right to decide what they get to do there?
If, is it seems so often these days, the answer is simply that “might makes right,” you’re clearly a short-term thinker, undriven by logic, and unfit to live in a free society. When you use physical force to silence those with whom you disagree, it is you who needs to be controlled; not the speakers with whom you disagree. That’s why we have laws against physically assaulting others. “Might makes right” is a philosophy for anarchists, leading only to chaos, and a society full of broken noses, limbs, and full graveyards.
All those who wish to silence others who say things they don’t like forget that a time could come when the shoe is on the other foot. Like the doctor in this article, they could end up dead because their government was allowed to have that power. Those who wish to silence others who say things they don’t like think that this is cool, because they will always be in power.
History has shown this is not true. I could provide a long list of historical periods where right-wing fascists controlled society, where left-wing fascists controlled society, and where groups from all across the political spectrum controlled society. This post isn’t meant to be a complete history course. Do a little reading, if you’re really interested. In fact, do a little reading anyway, because that’s one sure path to understanding anything. If you really want to do something good for society, learn. Then work.
Work to make the world a better place by convincing others you are right, not by drowning them out, taking away their freedom to speech, or beating them into submission.
Of course, this could be a problem, if someone has already made a decision on what reading material is acceptable. It could be a problem if someone has already decided what you’re allowed to argue. It doesn’t work out so well in a society where thinking certain things is punishable by the government.
Instead, you should be fighting like hell to protect freedom of speech, even when you disagree with what is being said. You should be fighting like hell to keep a free press. You should be fighting like hell to make sure those freedoms—already theoretically and technically enshrined in the United States Constitution (and many individual states’ constitutions)—are honored. Particularly by those in power.
Because you won’t always agree with those in power. And if government has the power to silence those with whom they disagree, they have the power to silence you.